When I envisioned my career as a kid, I always imagined I’d figured out what I really loved to do in college, I’d get a job doing just that after I graduated, and then I’d work my way up the ladder, becoming increasingly more successful and fulfilled with each passing year and performance review.
The reality of my situation doesn’t come close to my youthful vision. I’ve bounced around industries, I’ve worked at huge corporations and super small startups, I’ve taken pay cuts and pay rises and, having started my own business this past June, charted an extremely non-linear career path.
Through it all, some of the trickiest questions I’ve had to navigate involve knowing when to backtrack and when not to. If you’ve ever wondered when it makes sense to take that pay cut or lower title, here are three situations where going backward is likely the best way forward in the long run.
1. When You Want to Start Over
If you’re an analyst who dreams of being a chef, or a marketing manager who dreams of being a fashion blogger, a lesser title and pay cut are par for the career-transitioning course. It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll get hired as an executive chef if you’ve been working in investment banking for the past six years. Starting over often means starting at the bottom.
But, I believe that if you’re doing something you really love, and you’re making the kind of contribution that gets you excited to get out of bed every morning, the big money and fancy title truly won’t matter as much to you as it once did. Of course, they’re still yours to aspire to, but they’re likely to feel less valuable if you feel truly passionately about your work.
2. When You’re Switching Industries
It goes without saying that the industries that have the longest hours and induce the most stress are usually the ones that offer the beefiest salaries and titles (then again, do the math, and the hourly rate of those hefty-salary jobs may not look so sweet).
I knew when I decided to make the jump from the financial industry to media, it would mean a pay cut, but I also knew that my hours would be better, and I’d have a far better work-life balance. And so, for me, the opportunity to work in an industry I was really passionate about, a career that allowed me to have regular dinners with my husband without my email notifications piling up beside me and to take uninterrupted vacations mostly unplugged definitely outweighed the money I lost.
This is not true for everyone though. Before you switch from a notoriously high-paying industry to a low-paying one, I recommend you are very clear with yourself on what matters to you. What kind of job satisfaction is this career likely to offer? How much of a salary cut are you willing to take to pursue it?
When it comes to negotiating, be transparent about what you’re making at your current job and what you’d like to make at the one you’re pursuing. Don’t be shy about expressing the value you know you’d be bringing the new company, but don’t be surprised if it cannot come close to matching your previous salary. Also, joining a small team as an entry-level or mid-level employee may be what you need to do to get your foot of a company you're excited about joining. Again, these factors—salary, title—are something to really mull over before you make any big leaps.
3. When You Don’t Care About Climbing the Career Ladder
If you’re hell-bent on making partner by the time you’re 40, then each and every career move you make needs to be strategic and, as much as possible, on an upward trajectory. But, if that’s not something you aspire to—and plenty of us don’t—then you might find yourself going part-time or dabbling in freelance or consulting work while fostering other non-career focused passions.
Maybe you discover you love writing tech blogs during the day but value time at night to start your novel. You might thrill at an opportunity to do some freelance work and spend the majority of time homing in on your true passion, not caring about the hit in your weekly income.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of family planning. If you’re a new mom or dad who would rather devote more time to the home than the job, it may mean forgoing a promotion and raise. It’s a big decision, but it’s yours to make.
Before you decide whether or not to backtrack, I encourage you to get a solid grasp of your vision for the future. What do you want your life to look like in the next two, five, and 10 years? What drives you to get out of bed in the morning? What is success in your eyes? What does feeling fulfilled look like? When you use the answers to those questions as your North Star, there is no backtracking. Not really, anyway. No matter what your salary or title, it’s all forward momentum. It’s all for the good of you.